A little relief for 'Downton Abbey' addicts
Like many of you, I am currently in "Downton Abbey" withdrawl. There are many reasons so many of us watch the BBC show that has captured America by storm. Maybe it's the fashion that is showcased each episode: the new plunging necklines or visible calves. The exquisite beadwork or fashion-forward hairstyles. Maybe it's a fascination with the time period — the early 20th century brought an abundance of revelation — the Great War, the Suffrage movement, American Prohibition, the residential telephone. Maybe it's the beautiful English countryside or the adherence to the rules of society.
Whatever it is — it captured the attention of over 8 million American viewers during the season finale.
There are many reading lists out there for fans of Downton Abbey, and anyone at the library can show those to you. Some are nonfiction and some are novels. I thought I'd put a little twist on it and give you a list of books that take place during the same time period but have an American spin on them.
First up is the riveting fiction novel "The Chaperone" by Laura Moriarty. This is the story of a teenage dancer who wants to leave Wichita, Kan., behind and embark on a new life with the Denishawn Dance Company in New York City. With younger siblings at home and parents too distracted to notice, Louise Brooks needs an escort to accompany her across the country and to chaperone her summer in the big city. Her wealthy parents just want her out of the house and look for a suitable companion for the trip.
Middle-aged and proper Cora Carlisle steps in for the job. Her sons are in college and away working for the summer, and her successful husband can manage fine on his own for two months. Cora is a soft-spoken matron with a kind heart and a lot of secrets.
She has her own reasons for wanting to go along to New York, and the reader is introduced to them gradually through the novel.
As we find out on the train ride across the country, Louise is an arrogant, selfish and argumentative girl who laughs at Cora's attempts at propriety and does her best to outwit Cora's best attempts at protection and moral guidance.
The author includes details on acceptable clothing and behavior for someone of Louise's place in society, and later we're introduced to the artsy world of film, dance and jazz clubs.
I loved this book, which I actually listened to on audiobook. I was amused to find that it was narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora on "Downton Abbey." Because it introduces many talking points on morals, society and historical facts, it would be an ideal novel for a local book club. Incidentally, this is loosely based on the life of the real Louise Brooks, a silent film star from the '20s and '30s. Beautifully written, as well as an engrossing read.
Hungry for some additional ideas? You can't go wrong with "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Filled with stories of extravagant parties and the love for a woman in the 1920s on the East Coast, it's a sure bet. Additionally, if you like that, don't forget to pick up "Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald" by Therese Fowler, about the love affair and marriage of Zelda Sayre and a hopeful novelist named Scott.
"Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles takes place a little later — in the late 1930s — but also focuses on great characters and the upper echelons of New York society. Author John Jakes is well known for his historical novels with strong characters. In his "Gods of Newport," we are introduced to the mansions of Newport, R.I., and the frolicking of America's ultra-rich in the early 20th century.
And lastly, in "One Sunday Morning," author Amy Ephron gives us a different view of rich New York women of the Jazz Age who one day see someone they know leaving a hotel with a man who is not her husband. Their assumptions, and the gossiping that follows, result in heartbreak and betrayal.
"Downton" is great television, but it's time to slip away and broaden your horizons with some equally fascinating tales of societal pressure, fabulous clothes and historical content with these books from your public library.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.